More than half the professional footballers in England have witnessed or suffered racist abuse in stadiums, a survey has revealed.
The poll of 200 players in the Premier League and Football League was carried out by football’s anti-discrimination group Kick It Out.
The players, of whom a third were from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, overwhelmingly backed bringing the “Rooney rule” into English football to give black coaches greater opportunities.
The survey follows high-profile criticism of Kick It Out by players such as Jason Roberts and Rio Ferdinand after the John Terry and Luis Suarez racist abuse cases.
Results of the poll suggest 57 per cent of players have witnessed, and 24 per cent have been subjected to, racist abuse at matches. Seven per cent have been subjected to, and 20 per cent have witnessed, racist abuse on the training ground or in the dressing room.
In addition, 62 per cent of players felt mandatory shortlisting should be in place for black and minority ethnic candidates applying for coaching or administration jobs.
Paul Mortimer, the former Charlton Athletic and Crystal Palace player who was appointed as Kick It Out’s professional player engagement manager partly in response to criticism of the campaign, said carrying out the survey was an important first step.
“These statistics show what players see from the pitch and in the training grounds,” he said. “Now we have these figures we can go ahead and do something about it, pinpoint areas and put strategies in place.”
Support for the “Rooney rule”, named after the regulation in American football whereby clubs have to interview at least one black or ethnic minority candidate when appointing coaches, came from both black and white players.
“In fact, the biggest portion of support for that was from white players. Across the board people looked at that,” Mortimer added. “I am a black coach who found it difficult to find management roles and all you want is a fair opportunity to fight for the job, to be able to be interviewed and judged, and to know what the procedure is and for it to be transparent.”
The survey results showed 65 per cent of players were aware of the process to report abuse and were confident about doing so, while 91 per cent said social media had led to a big increase in abuse.
“It is a huge problem,” said Mortimer. “We have a reporting app which players can report social media abuse on and we also want to educate people in how to handle abuse, such as not responding in person.”
Mortimer has held talks with Kick It Out’s leading critics Roberts and Jason Brown, and plans to speak to Ferdinand too.
“What I am trying to say to all of them is that has happened and now it’s where we go from there,” he said. “From now onwards we can come together and really be a voice, but if there are factions it loses power.”